NEHRU PLANETARIUM : EXPLORING THE MYSTERIES OF THE SKIES

    The Nehru Planetarium in New Delhi is situated in the sprawling surroundings of the Teen Murti House, better known as the official residence of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Conscious of the fact that an understanding of the spirit and method of science was crucial for children to become responsible citizens, Nehru liked every opportunity to be provided to them in this endeavor. In 1964, the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund was set up to promote his ideas and subsequently it undertook to build the Nehru Planetarium with its primary aim being the promotion of astronomy and space education.

    Inaugurated by the then Prime Minister, Smt.Indira Gandhi, on 6th February,1984,the Planetarium has come a long way in disseminating knowledge about astronomy to the general public and astronomy enthusiasts and students in particular. The Planetarium building archaeologically gels with a nearby monument, the Kushak Mahal, a 13th century hunting lodge built by the Lodhi rulers.The air-conditioned sky theatre has a dome-shaped screen made of fibre glass with 26 curved segments and one million hand-drilled holes for clear accoustics.The sky theatre with a capacity of seating 270 people is essentially meant for screening taped and live public shows on various aspects of astronomy. In the centre of the theatre is a well, housing the Carl Zeiss Spaceflight Master projector placed on a hydraulic lift which enables it to come up during the shows. The gallery around the sky theatre helps in locating the slide and special effects projectors. Besides the sky theatre, the Planetarium also has an exhibit area which displays many interactive models and pictures. Visitors have the rare privilege of looking at the historic space module Soyuz T-10 which carried India’s first cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma, to space alongwith his space suit and mission journal. Event-based photo exhibitions are also mounted from time to time.

Theatre

    The Planetarium organises taped shows on topics of interest to the general public. Some of these include our cosmic heritage, the solar system, Halley’s Comet and the life story of a star. Curriculum-based shows especially designed on demand from school and college students are accompanied by a live lecture followed by an interactive question-answer session. They are a fruitful experience for the students. For more effective learning, students are also provided with activity sheets based on the shows. Story-based children’s show is another innovative form of effectively communicating with the students.

Outreach Activities

    Under its outreach activities the Nehru Planetarium organises space art contests, astronomy quiz contests, telescope making workshops, astrophotography workshops, astronomy camps, evening or night sky watch and public lectures from time to time throughout the year. The Amateur Astronomers Association, New Delhi (AAAD), a fraternal organisation, closely collaborates with the Planetarium in organising these activities. The Association also keeps in touch with its counterparts in other States by holding annual meets.

    The Planetarium has been designing activities and programmes on astronomy to fulfil the needs of the school syllabus.The success of these programmes can be gauged from the fact that many schools have made the planetarium visit a mandatory feature during the academic year.The in-house faculty at the Planetarium also assists senior school and college students in their astronomy-related project work.The Planetarium recently started a new astronomy magazine, Krittika, this year to provide information as well as create a forum for students and teachers to discuss issues related to sky watching and astronomy. Interested persons can avail themselves of a free inaugural issue by sending an e-mail request at planetdl@bol.net.in .The Nehru Planetarium has also started participatory e-groups for those interested in astronomy. To become a member of this group, one can e-mail to www.groups.yahoo.com/group/nehruplanetarium. What’s more, the Director of the Planetarium, Ms.Rathnasree, personally goes through the individual mails discussing and explaining the celestial events taking place at different locations throughout the country to the e-group members.
For those interested in pursuing a career in astronomy, a science degree at the graduation or post-graduate level is a must. Delhi and Osmania Universities offer astronomy related courses. Some of the other reputed institutes enagaged in the fields of teaching, research and development in astronomy and astrophysics are the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai; the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune; Raman Research Institute, Bangalore and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore. Job avenues are available in teaching and research fields.

    The Planetarium has been constantly improvising and innovating programmes for its visitors. Plans are afoot to upgrade the existing Planetarium equipment to bring it at par with other planetaria in the world. There is also a proposal to introduce diploma courses on image processing and data analysis for college students. With its pioneering work in the field of astronomy education, New Delhi’s Nehru Planetarium has earned accolades from various quarters.